Toni gets tended to during a trip to the veterinarian’s office. Toni is one of the dogs Alicia Hoemsen has helped in the past year. (SUBMITTED)
Some of the 800 pounds of dog food collected by Cheryl Michaluk and donated to Alicia Hoemsen of Elkhorn. Hoemsen is using the food to feed stray dogs in First Nations’ communities to ensure that the dogs don’t attack each other in order to survive. (SUBMITTED)
What started out as one of the most bizarre acts of thievery in the province turned into a blessing for one animal lover in Elkhorn.
On Thursday, Alicia Hoemsen, who helps feed, care and find homes for stray cats and dogs on the Birdtail Sioux First Nation and Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, was given a late Christmas present when a pallet of dog food was donated to her program.
"We got 800 pounds of dog food and it’s almost gone already," Hoemsen said on Sunday, while travelling to Brandon to transport a pregnant dog to Winnipeg.
How the food came to Hoemsen is an amazing story in itself.
In November, a Winnipeg volunteer group set to travel to Norway House to help stray dogs, had 44 boxes of dog food and supplies stolen. While the stolen dog food was a tragedy at the time, it turned out to be a boon for the volunteer group, who — with the help of media coverage — received an outpouring of donations that more than made up for the stolen goods.
After learning of the initial theft, Winnipeg’s Cheryl Michaluk took it upon herself to collect food and supplies to replace the stolen goods.
"The theft was a pretty crappy thing to do," Michaluk said. "The robbery really sucked and I though it would be great to see if we could replace some of it."
But after learning that the volunteer group had surpassed it’s orignal supply, Michaluk decided to spread the wealth to another deserving animal group.
That’s when Michaluk found Hoemsen in Elkhorn and recognized the good work she was doing at the two First Nations’ communities near her.
"There are a lot of people that need this food for their animals and a lot of animals that need it," Hoemsen said.
A food shortage coupled with a high dog population meant some dogs were beginning to turn on each other in order to survive the cold winter, according to Hoemsen.
"The dogs were so hungry that they were packing up to hunt and kill other dogs and pets to eat," Hoemsen said.
Initially, she said, it was tough to gain the trust of the First Nations’ communities, but over time she has formed bonds with other animal lovers with the common goal of getting the dog population under control.
"It’s important to help these animals," Hoemsen said. "The people that I’ve met have been really great and together we will make a difference. We want to keep helping until we can get more dogs off the reserve or spayed and neutered. Hopefully by this time next year, there are no more puppies freezing."
Unfortunately, not all of her stories have a happy ending.
In one case, Hoemsen picked up an injured dog in Sioux Valley. The dog appeared to have been shot, although Hoemsen said the vet couldn’t confirm it. After nursing the dog back to health, Hoemsen added a photo of the dog to the Sioux Valley Reserve Animal Rescue Facebook page, which she uses to track down dog owners. Adding the photo worked and the owner of the dog emailed Hoemsen back, but also said that she was still missing another dog and sent a photo to Hoemsen of the second missing animal.
Hoemsen forwarded the photo of the second missing dog to the Dakota Ojibway Police, who informed her that they had found the dog shot to death and that the detachment was investigating, she said.
"I had to phone her back and let her know that I had found her other dog, but that it wasn’t good news," Hoemsen said.
While the story is tragic, it hasn’t deterred Hoemsen and her group of animal lovers from trying to achieve their goal.
"The idea is to stop the cycle of puppies," Hoemsen said. "There are a lot of people caring for stray dogs or puppies and are willing to feed them until we can find a home for them. We don’t want animals attacking other animals and we’ll keep working because there are people that want to do right by their dogs, but they need some help."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 31, 2012